Xenoblade Chronicles: First Impressions
As promised, here is another coveted installment in my world-bending series of half-congealed thoughts on new releases. Today’s selection should come as no surprise to my loyal readers, but for all of you stopping by on a completely unrelated search, what follows is my evaluation of the first eight hours of Xenoblade Chronicles. Sadly, this post will not feature high-res screencaps documenting my intrepid journey up to the Bionis’ knee; unlike some people, I did not pirate the game for use on a certain cetacean emulator, so I have no PC screens to show off. Truth be told, I didn’t buy it, either, but I am living vicariously through Tori’s expedition and my own brief experimentation with the combat system.
As evidenced above, the story begins in the midst of an epic last stand between three dudes (one of which looks like a pirate) and an army of asymmetrical mechs. The guy with the glowing blue sword is intrepid, taking his buddies in for one final stand before their entire army gets annihilated. Not wanting to cut the story short at half an hour, our plucky hero turns the tide of the battle with his bravado and his ethereal, phallic blade. After the day is won, the narrative jumps forward a year, dropping into a happy little hamlet displaying an unclear level of technological development: these people have lasers and missiles, but they fight robots with swords. Were this Star Trek TNG, Captain Picard would lock himself in his ready room for days trying to decide whether or not making contact violated the Prime Directive.
The first quest features three tweenish people with British accents taking bladed melee weapons to go retrieve some fuel rods so they can move a piece of mobile artillery that crashed into somebody’s house. Things go swimmingly until a flying armada of evil robots arrives and puts their entire colony to the torch. Suddenly one friend short, the two remaining heroes band together and, with the help of the techno-magical sword Monado, drive the metal-faced menace back. They swear vengeance for their fallen comrade and set out on a half-cocked quest with nothing but the clothes and swords on their backs. Along the way, they save a younger person from monsters only to have him drive away in his internal-combustion-powered buggy and get caught by another evil mech. The kid’s older sister and her oversized sniper rifle join the party, and the trio sets off to save the dipshit from himself.
Things I Enjoyed
-The combat system takes some getting used to, but once you have it down, it’s a great new take on single-player RPG combat. I say “single-player” because it feels a lot like the standard MMO combat style; autoattacks, cooldowns, and real-time combat. It’s even a step above MMOs in that the AI-controlled party members aren’t the standard bong-bashed idiots one typically finds in a pug. You can control whichever character you want, meaning that individual play style can be somewhat accommodated. If you prefer guns to swords, jump into the skin of gratuitously-cleavaged gunner woman. Prefer tanking? Take resident meat shield Reyn for a spin. Best of all: no items, which means no running out of phoenix downs in the middle of a boss fight. Resurrection is handled via the party gauge; as long as you have one full bar (filled with combos and teamwork and crap), you can run over to downed allies and pull them back on their feet.
-The world is rich, colorful and evokes the bygone days of JRPG glory on the PS2. Some reviewers have listed this as a drawback, and I can understand the position. The character models do look like they belong on a previous generation’s hardware, but that’s okay with me. The developers may be cashing in on the dated graphics inducing waves of nostalgia, and it works. At the same time, the size of the world around you–complete with alternating day/night cycles and weather–adds a depth that the PS2 could not have matched.
Things I Didn’t Like
-While the older art style is charming, the silly voice acting that accompanies it (another hallmark of bygone days, right, Skyrim? RIGHT?) is either the mockery tree’s low-hanging fruit or an annoying impediment to immersion, depending on my mood and what’s going on. I realize that Nintendo probably didn’t redub the English version when they brought it over from Arthur’s kingdom (evidenced by the spelling of certain words in the subtitles), but it seems they never put much money into the voice cast to begin with. I’m not asking for Hellsing-esque levels of quality, but at least make sure the actors have read the script once before putting them in front of the microphone.
-The various party mechanics in combat are ambiguous, especially given that I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the tutorial (those Shadow Hearts: From the New World side quests won’t finish themselves). Thus, I find myself pressing B without knowing why and seeing little hearts fly around the screen as a result. Am I performing joint attacks? Offering time-critical buffs or heals? Waggling my eyebrows in a suggestive manner? Could be all three; I’ll never know unless I overcome my laziness and go back through the tutorials again, which are handily on file for the benefit of such idiots as myself. Still, it’s a lot of information to take in when you’re still adjusting to the combat system.
Verdict: This is kind of a moot point since we already own the game, but yes, I recommend picking it up. While not the paradigm-shattering revolution to the genre that people have claimed, it is more than a few steps down the road toward updating the JRPG for future generations.